When Hazel N. Dukes, president of the NAACP New York State Conference gavels the State Convention to order here this Friday, she’ll do it with the authority passed down to here by W.E.B. Dubois when he called the group to order here in Western New York and Southern Ontario 112 years ago.
Dukes, a member of the NAACP National Board of Directors, a member of the NAACP Executive Committee and well as an active member of various NAACP board sub-committees, carries historic weight!
Says Dukes, “a harsh system of civil and human injustice persists; intimidation, violence, and the recent rash of “nooses,” speak to the widespread de facto absence of a civil and human rights agenda in America, and the fires of frustration continue to burn.”
The NAACP New York State Conference will convene here Friday through Sunday on the campus of Niagara University.
The New York State Conference has historically played a pivotal role in moving the agenda for freedom and equality forward under the leadership of dynamic State Conference Presidents, each of whom addressed critical issues during their tenure.
Duke is one of the most effective of State Conference leaders in recent memory ensuring that the NAACP New York State Conference has been a vital programmatic component of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for 80 of the 108-year history of the oldest, most effective and most respected civil rights organization in the Nation.
The vision of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is to ensure a society in which all individuals have equal rights without discrimination based on race.
Like its original founders, the NAACP’s objectives remain essentially the same as they were when the Niagara Movement was formed, “to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of all citizens, and:
• To achieve equality of rights and eliminate race prejudice among the citizens of the United States
• To remove all barriers of racial discrimination through democratic processes
• To seek enactment and enforcement of federal, state, and local laws securing civil rights
• To inform the public of the adverse effects of racial discrimination and to seek its elimination
• To educate persons as to their constitutional rights and to take all lawful action to secure the exercise thereof, and to take any other lawful action in furtherance of these objectives
The New York State Conference has hosted the National Convention in 1987, in 1999; and again for the Mega Centennial celebration in New York City in 2009.
This region’s role as a “safe harbor” before, during and after the Civil War ended is undisputed; Western New York and Southern Ontario provided more than a strategic geographic advantage for freedom seekers.
In fact, Niagara Falls and Western New York was saturated with sympathetic, supportive activists, mostly white, many Quakers.
Author, Fergus Bordewich documented in his “Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America,” that the Niagara County Antislavery Society had as many as 21,000 members in 1837 with branches in nine of the county’s 12 townships.
This area was teeming with abolitionists!
Niagara’s reputation as a safe haven for those escaping slavery was well earned.
When he arrived here in 1848 after attending the Women’s Rights Convention in nearby, Frederick Douglass saw Niagara Falls as a land of opportunity where people of color could find work in the growing hospitality industry as chefs, waiters, chambermaids, porters; some struck out on their own, using their entrepreneurial spirit to build their own businesses.
And for those for whom Niagara was no longer secure after the Fugitive Slave Act was signed into law by Millard Fillmore, Douglas also saw that Niagara was a gateway to Canada.
Our reputation as a place where all are welcome regardless of race continued to grow nationally; by 1905, W.E.B. Du Bois chose Niagara as the namesake for the Niagara Movement, a civil rights organization they hoped would end the rampant lynchings, beatings and general terrorism and intimidation tactics intended to keep “Negroes in their place,” out of the voting booths.
Four years later, in 1909 the Niagara Movement evolved into the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People which ignited the movement to push for major civil rights victories.
Yet in Niagara Falls, more than a century later, our community, like many in New York state and around the world still struggles with race.
Niagara Falls could serve as a superb laboratory, a focal point for all the good that can come out of the misfortunes and the missteps that we and the nation have experienced over the past few decades or so regarding race relations, especially now.
With input and support from local churches, civic organizations, the school district, the business community, and private foundations, a revived NAACP and a seriously focused Human Rights Commission could step up to the plate and take is rightful, historic place in the on-going march toward justice for all in this increasingly tense environment.
As a city sitting on an international border, we are evolving with the rest of the world. Our population is becoming more diverse at the same time that new opportunities are beginning to form, we are changing.
Dukes is a woman of great strength and courage; her dedication to human rights and equality is exemplified by her role linking business, government and social causes; she is an active and dynamic leader who is known for her unselfish and devoted track record for improving the quality of life in New York state.
Her legendary strength, together with the organization’s power and this region’s historic roots should be formally combined to renew our mutual commitments to positive change.
She, like her predecessors should serve as an example worthy of following, if we are ever going to find our way here.
Contact Bill at email@example.com.